Critics say Exxon Mobil settlement bad deal for Paulsboro, Atlantic City

     New Jersey Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak, D- Elizabeth, holds up petitions with more than 15,000 signatures against New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's announced settlement with Exxon Mobil Corp. Lesniak called the Christie administration's proposed $225 million settlement of New Jersey's $8.9 billion claim for restoration of damage and destruction in the areas of Exxon Mobil's refineries in Linden, Bayonne and other facilities, the biggest corporate giveaway in New Jersey history. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

    New Jersey Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak, D- Elizabeth, holds up petitions with more than 15,000 signatures against New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's announced settlement with Exxon Mobil Corp. Lesniak called the Christie administration's proposed $225 million settlement of New Jersey's $8.9 billion claim for restoration of damage and destruction in the areas of Exxon Mobil's refineries in Linden, Bayonne and other facilities, the biggest corporate giveaway in New Jersey history. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

    A state senator and environmental groups seeking to intervene in a New Jersey settlement with Exxon Mobil have called it a raw deal for areas such as Paulsboro, Atlantic City and Salem County.

    The Paulsboro Terminal, two Atlantic City terminals and a facility in Pedricktown are among the current and former Exxon Mobil sites included in a proposed $225 million remediation settlement with the state of New Jersey.

    State Sen. Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, and a coalition of environmental groups argue it is unfair to roll the sites into an agreement based on a decade-long litigation process concerning two refineries in Bayonne and Linden.

    Lesniak said it’s not clear how much remediation at the industrial sites will cost.  

    “It could be billions of dollars of damage, we don’t know,” Lesniak said. “At the very least, the state has to do an assessment before they give up and release Exxon Mobil from any liability to repair the damage that they’ve done.”

    A DEP spokesman has said the South Jersey cases were included because possible natural-resource damage claims would be insignificant, a statement critics challenge.

    “This is not a package deal, all of these sites, especially Paulsboro, need to be taken as serious environmental disaster zones, and they’re not right now,” said Doug O’Malley, director of the group Environment New Jersey.

    The proposed settlement covers the two North Jersey refineries, 16 industrial sites and hundreds of gas stations around the state.

    It does not exempt Exxon Mobil from cleaning up pollution from spilled oil or gas at any of the sites.

    Lesniak and a coalition of environmental groups have filed motions to intervene in the case, largely because they say $225 million is not enough to restore important salt marsh, marsh creek, and wetland habitats contaminated while Exxon operated the sites in question.

    A judge in Burlington County on Friday will hear arguments about whether the environmental groups and Lesniak have standing to intervene in the case.

    This week the state wrote in court filings their involvement is “unwarranted” and would “complicate and lengthen an already old and complex case.”

    A judge ruled in 2006 that Exxon was liable for restoration at the two North Jersey refineries, and the state originally sought $8.9 billion in damages.

    Since then, the state attorney general’s office has reached a proposed settlement with the company.

    NewsWorks partner site NJ Spotlight has reported that a DEP spokesman defended the tentative settlement by noting that the Corzine administration tried to settle the case for about $500 million, but Exxon rejected it.

    “You have to prove natural-resources damages,” Bob Considine told NJ Spotlight. “It’s not easy.”

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.